Cat Marnell Explains Herself
Regular readers may have noticed that Cat Marnell’s VICE column, Amphetamine Logic, has been conspicuously absent these past few weeks. No, Cat did not blow her lips off freebasing cocaine like Richard Pryor, and no, she will not be parting ways with VICE anytime soon—she’s just been taking some much-needed R&R to sort out that wonderfully complex and hyper-intelligent orb of gray matter and skull that sits atop her neck.
Anyway, I thought it prudent to get her on the horn and give everyone an update regarding what she’s been up to (in short, getting healthy), and the mainstream media’s obnoxious regurgitation of Cat’s supposed damsel-in-distress-while-constantly-chewing-amphetamine-pills-and-oh-my-god-is-VICE-enabling-her fantasy that some boring asshole at the Observer, New York, etc. decided to concoct in between picking out new zany bow ties or whatever silly chodes do to keep up their pretense of superiority while feeding the vicious cycle they have helped create. Here’s all that.
VICE: So, what the fuck, Cat? Why haven’t you written your column the last few weeks?
Cat: Listen, I have been writing them. They just haven’t been up to my standards. Of course, I am extremely committed to continuing columns, but I’m also just crazy and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know man, I’m sorry.
Don’t apologize to me. We’re doing this because readers have been asking.
Well, I want my readers to know that I love them and I have just been needing to take care of myself and prioritize and—
Because you weren’t sufficiently doing that before?
I was not sufficiently doing that, which is what always happens to me, you know? And I get very… I get burned out. The New York Times is all like, “She’s setting herself on fire for our enjoyment.” And I was like, “Hardly…” I’ve been burned out for quite some time! I had my glamorous glory lit-cigarette days and then I turned into a cigarette butt and my life became an ashtray. Now I am emptying it all the time and trying to clean up. And so I’ve been taking some time to… Did you ever see the Mike Mills thing? Does Your Soul Have a Cold? The fuck pills, Mike Mills? It’s kind of like that, when you struggle with substance-abuse problems, the worst thing I think you can do is—and I’ve learned this so many times—I had to quit Conde Nast, I had to leave xoJane because I was prioritizing the wrong things. So when I get into a place where I only feel like I can be writing about drugs drugs drugs, and that I can only write when I take drugs, I take a break. I’ve learned to recognize when my brain is sick, when my soul is sick. You have to rest. Chemical creativity is real but not sustainable. I get like two good columns out of it, tops.
What are you doing to rectify your physical situation?
I hadn’t been taking care of my body, I hadn’t been taking care of my brain. And I’ve been doing that now for a couple weeks. I’ve been exercising.
What type of exercise?
First of all, I’m the only person who gets such bad press that it cancels out good press I’m supposed to get. So I was supposed to do this story—and I feel so bad—for Fashion Week Daily, during Fashion Week, and I went to Bikram LES, which is fabulous; it’s like where Lady Gaga goes and everything. Not that I like that poser Lady Gaga! So it completely changed my body and my mind. I thought I was going to die the first couple classes. Like I literally thought I was going to throw up and die, and I never throw up by accident! Then the crazy “Up All Night with a Drug Addict” Page Six Magazine story came out the same week, so the Daily didn’t run their story; it would have made them look stupid, because it was about me getting healthy. I felt so bad. But I loved Bikram LES; it got me started on exercising every day… I’ve been doing a lot of workout DVDs in my apartment, like the 1992 Cindy Crawford Work Your Body, and The Situation workout from The Jersey Shore—it’s really good. But basically that stuff, and I’ve been walking a lot. And this isn’t an excuse for not doing my columns, but this is just how… I just had to take a break. Yo, I’m really not that sad of a person right now, and with that column what I think people don’t get is, and I try not to explain my work too much, but what I really wanted to do was write the addictive personality. And so every time I’ve sat down to write, it’s the worst elements of my personality as an addict—that’s what Amphetamine Logic is—it’s based on the addict’s way of thought.
And to clarify, some of your columns are about experiences you had in the past. A lot of people think you’re talking about something that happened the week before, which is sometimes the case but not always. I think that’s something journalists who have interviewed you have largely missed.
Right, it’s a series of sort-of vignettes from my life, and sometimes I’ll make it really clear, like in “Coke Sex for Teen Sluts,” that it is a scene from ten years ago. But the media circus has become a place where I felt very stuck in a drug identity and of course it was something I created so I don’t blame people for sensationalizing it or claiming to worry that I’ll die, but I was really trying to write about a different kind of drug problem. A less, uh… deadly one? Because not all drug problems will kill you. Period.
And I mean you’re writing it from a psychological point of view. Like a bunch of change banging around inside your mind, like it’s a sock or something. That’s a poor analogy.
Right, when I take speed or whatever I start rhyming in my head so I decided to write the column in that amphetamine lyricism, almost. I wanted to show people there are all different kinds of addicts, and they’re not all the “jail, institution, or death” NA thing, but for others I think there’s a whole generation who basically were put on stimulants when they were younger, and then, you know, everyone’s assuming they’re gonna grow out of them. In June The New York Times or something had a big Adderall pill photo above the folds on the front-page like, “College Students Still Using Adderall for Exams.” And that kind of thing is so retarded—these journalists aren’t living in the real world and reporting amphetamine abuse and dependency as I know it to be. People are not going off of these stimulants when they graduate college, you know? These Ritalin Kids are growing up to be very generic pillhead adults, and it’s not life-or-death, but it is a very quiet soul-murder almost. This is the different kind of addict I am writing about. I am one of them, and I probably won’t end up like the NA creed says... Well, actually, I’ve been in a bunch of rehabs and mental institutions, but anyway, it’s been very psychically—or spiritually, rather—damaging. Fifteen years of amphetamine every fucking day has flatlined me; this is the story I wanted to tell. Like when I write about sex, for example, in a column like “Coke Sex for Teen Sluts,” I’m trying not to write about sex as much as I’m writing about the experience of just feeling dead inside during sex. And that’s sort of what I was trying to do with the column, was show how dangerous in that way, with stimulants, something that everybody I know does is. And God, I’m in media… I know everyone, and anyone who’s anybody on deadline or closing in this town is just like Adderall Adderall Adderall. Gimme more. It’s unbelievable.
Can we expect at least one or two more Amphetamine Logic’s, or is it all done?
Yep. Two more.
But then after that you’re gonna write something else for us, another column.
I can’t decide…
And we’ll figure that out. Let’s just leave it as a teaser.
My relationship with VICE is not over, and I never specifically said that. I’ve given interviews where I didn’t really answer questions. But if the president can be coy and vague, why can’t I? It’s a democracy!
Just so we can clear the record here, when we sat down for our first meeting about the column I told you that you could write about whatever you wanted.
Yeah. You gave me no direction. It was actually very frustrating. Which was why I decided to go weird.
You said you didn’t want to do beauty writing anymore, I basically said, “What do you want to talk about?” And you said, “Drugs.” And it’s not in the context of doing drugs, it’s what you just explained about this generation and all this stuff. I want that to be clear.
People have to remember that it was so swift. It’s funny because how it happened was you emailed me as soon as the Jane thing ended to do a column, and at the same time I had a draft sitting in my outbox—because I never follow through with anything—but I had a draft email started to you being like, “Hi, I’m Cat Marnell. I don’t know if you’ve heard of me but I just want to…” And I didn’t ever know you were gonna offer me a column, which was awesome. I just had to get out of that women’s blogosphere, which is very—repressed and henpeck-y and PC and artless, and also it’s inaccurate to call me a blogger, because I don’t write about other people’s stuff or anything that’s going on in anyone else’s world but my own.
You’re not a glorified commenter, which is basically what bloggers are.
Ha, I don’t necessarily agree with that. I mean, I don’t hate on blogs at all; I think that certain people and sites definitely do it right, but I personally try to spend as little time behind a computer as possible, and write about my life outside in the world, and not about other things that anyone else is, you know, “covering.” I don’t “cover” stories, I tell my own. It’s not more admirable than blogging, it’s just a different thing altogether. And so I think that’s what confuses people—what I’m doing via the medium of the web. There are lots of people who in the comments are like, “Why is this online?” But that’s why I wanted to go to VICE, because VICE generally doesn’t write about other stuff on the internet. It’s much truer to the best kind of magazine writing, which is people going out into the world and seeing things and doing things and writing about them.
Which has historically been the best type of writing.
Right, people are in their air-conditioned offices and they’re behind computers and picking on each other—which is great fun when it’s done artfully and brilliantly, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-internet or anything, it’s opened up the whole world to people as much as it’s shut people in. But anyone who is responsible for putting out online content has to, I think, be ambitious and look at what’s missing from the 90 million conversations going on online—and then write that. Take a risk, you know? And I am proud of my online work because I believe that I did that. Like at xoJane, because everybody wrote about sex so much, I never ever would write about sex; there are a million beauty blogs and no one ever wrote about their real lives on them, and certainly not about anything, uh, edgy, and so I went there with the drug stuff. But at VICE I was like, “OK, what’s missing here?”; VICE has done it all. And what I decided was missing was [laughs] feelings. Emotional vulnerability. So I was like, “I’m gonna go there and write emo.” And I don’t think you really knew what to do with it at first. Like, men aren’t used to reading that kind of stuff.
No, that’s not true at all. I think I saw exactly through that and that’s why I liked it. I didn’t know where it was gonna go, but that’s fine. I knew that you’d take it to somewhere interesting.
Like I said, I was trying to write like an unlikeable narrator, really about the most unappealing aspects of drug use—in particular, the sickening of the soul. And at first everyone hated it! Many people aren’t used to reading writing that isn’t a presentation of the writer’s best or most interesting self, writing that’s not trying to make the writer sound good or make the reader feel good. Like I got an email from somebody who works at a really big website who read one of my columns—the “Cockroach and the Cokehead,” which was about walking home at dawn alone coming down and feeling quiet, like, sort of existential despair—and they were like, “Your last column made me sad,” but it was definitely a sort of brusque, pretentious tone, you know? Like, you should be different. And then he gave me a link. I clicked on it and it was to the NA website. And I was like, “For God’s sake…” I mean, he’s an excellent writer; writers are storytellers, and the best writing is supposed to make the reader feel something! But instead I was being condemned for that. I guess he was trying to help, but… for another writer to read something and respond so literally was just...
It’s insulting, like does he not think you know NA exists?
I wrote back and I was like, “That’s the point! I’m writing the addictive personality! It was supposed to make you feel sad!” Writing is about the shared experience. And every time I’m like, “Should I make this funnier?” I stay true to myself and remember what I really believe, which is that anguish, ultimately, is the universal language, or at least one of them, and it’s not something that’s often on the internet unless it’s in the news and reported in a very cold way, or on message boards, but I need to put it out there. But I am tired of writing the sad stuff for now. You have to remember that I started at VICE when I just finished with rehab and the Jane thing, I was very sick. My first Amphetamine Logic ends with me in my apartment alone in the dark crying and watching Bambi waiting for my benzos to kick. But having such creative freedom has been so exciting for me, and like I said, I would encourage any other writers to just take risks, I think risks pay off. And I get a lot of attention because people want to write about my story and my crazy life and blah blah blah. But it’s because VICE let me take a risk with the writing and do something different and kind of surreal for online. I’m so appreciative to everybody who reads it and I’m so excited to do more things. But I am going to be changing it up. Because drugs are boring, ultimately, and being depressed is boring, and I’m not depressed anymore—for now. I was depressed; you can see my most depressed columns. But the past couple weeks I’ve actually had trouble finishing up Amphetamine Logic because I haven’t been in that place. I haven’t had any amphetamine logic in my head. But I don’t know. There’s that stupid quote, “A real writer doesn’t wait for inspiration.” Who’s to say what the rules are? And I could’ve done that, I could’ve put up writing that sucked. But I’m not putting up writing that sucks.
It’s kind of funny to me, the gall people have. We debated for a while whether to have Facebook comments or not, and at first I thought no because comments would go down, like people on Facebook want to act like they’re fucking moral authorities. But then I realized, because I’ve never had an account, that you can go on and look at their shit and go, “How about I go back and make fun of something petty about you and stick it back in your face?” Who are these people?
You know who they are though? The readers!
Yeah, whatever. I think most thoughtful readers would just close the browser window if they didn't like an article they clicked on, not spend time squawking about it. I've never understood that culture, but I feel like it mostly exists among high school and college students and maladjusted adults. Quit reading it if you don’t like it so much. That’s what I don’t get.
I appreciate anybody who’s bothered to read a column, and even if they’re gonna hate I tell them to leave comments. It’s great.
You’re a far nicer person than I.
Well, I’ve really been changing my life and I would love it if whenever the new offices are done, I would love it if there was a conference room or a desk I could go to. No, actually, Fat Jew and I want our own office, and we want to decorate however we want. We will share a landline and a mood board.
What do you like about VICE? I know you've had other offers to write elsewhere.
VICE is one of the few sites that I can think of that is true to the idea of the “online magazine.”
Do you like working with us? How's VICE different on the editorial side compared to other magazines and websites?
VICE has always been creative, which is why I told you in the very beginning I wanted to come to you because there is such a strong current of art throughout everything and the fact that the photography issue is iconic, and these are people I admired growing up in my 20s in New York, like Tim Barber, for example—people like that. When I met him finally it was at like a Wu Tang concert at Fashion Week and I might as well have asked him for an autograph, I was so dorky. That said, art is my number one obsession, and I would love to be editor for some shoots, you know? I have ideas for days. I have a lot of things that I want to contribute. But I respect media and magazines so much that I do not fuck around; I’m not going to ask to do anything until I am ready to do it responsibly again. People think I fuck around, but when I’m not in a good place I’m not gonna pretend I am and screw over my magazine. I had to take a break from the work because I had to take care of myself. I can’t be who I want to be for VICE without doing the work and I started so fast with you guys that I had to slow down for a little bit. That’s what I’m doing now.
Let me ask you one thing about the media circus that’s going on since you started writing the column, which is really just the same story over and over again, and just laziness on the journalists’ part. But when the Page Six Magazine article came out a couple weeks back you got hit up by a lot of television producers, right? I don’t think we should name who but we’ll just say that they’re major-market…
I’ve already been tweeting them all.
Oh, then fuck it. We’ll say it; Anderson Cooper, Dr Phil…
I think I’m doing Dr. Phil.
That’s a pain in the ass.
I just think it’s the funniest.
No I do too.
It’s my grandma’s favorite show. And I think if anyone’s gonna son me—I like being sonned. I like being put in my place. No one’s telling me what to do ever, so maybe he’ll boss me around. I live for that; it feels like love!
Are you trying to get clean now, are you still taking speed?
I’m trying to be a better person, be a happier person, and I can’t say that sobriety is in my future, but I can say that I am making what, to me, are major changes and starting to see a therapist and there have been some definite changes in my drug use. Just because I don’t write about that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I’m not writing my diary, I’m writing select elements of my life, and I always think darker is more interesting. I’m not going to write about how I went to Juicepress today, you know? Ugh. People think I’m this big over-sharer and that I have no agency, but people forget that I’m in charge of what I put out. I’m not some emotional bulimic, just writing like a crazed person.
It’s not like we’re holding you in a room with a gun to your head being like, “Write about __!”
My life is something that I’m taking care of and I’m getting better for sure.
But you told me that you would only do Dr. Phil if he would send you to rehab.
I wish I could go to one of those places in Thailand… I want a story out of it. That place Pete Doherty goes? Craziest success rate ever, it’s so hardcore.
We’ll send you, it’s not a big deal. Maybe we don’t want to reveal it but do you want to talk about meeting up with your dad last week, or is that too much?
I hadn’t seen my dad in at least two and a half years, and when I did see him it was just for like a lunch with my siblings. And that’s part of what I’m doing right now is reconnecting with people. I need love in my life; I’m trying not to be this emotionally barren person anymore. I don’t really think my dad is going to be a great source for that, but I tried. I wanted to have a dad. But at least I tried. And I’m just trying to open myself up to having an emotional life and that’s really important.
Have you made any changes in terms of who you’re hanging out with?
Yes, I’m not hanging out with dustheads right now. I mean, my core friends are—I hang out with the most creative people I can. Creativity is the drug. I’ll say that a million times. And that, with the VICE column, has been the narcotic to me. It takes care of you, your creative brain—when you’re feeding it. So I hang out with the people who inspire me and my self-esteem is just so much better than it was two years ago. And I’ve maintained my obsessively close relationship with Jane [Pratt]. And it’s really important for me to have an editor in-chief like you who I can always reach and have some sort of focus. I’ve been hanging out with a lot more people who are writers and editors. My own social scene has always been artists.
Well, you said you wanted a summer. And I just took that literally, so I just let you do it. And people ask me, “If she didn’t write the column, do you think she’d be doing these things?”
That’s the thing.
I mean, you have an outlet and a responsibility. So if anything, it hopefully got you here, and you sound better.
Absolutely, I’ll always be doing what I do no matter where I work. I could be a fucking garbage man and I’d be doing it. I’ve been using the same drugs heavily since I was 15 years old. Now I’m 30, and I’m constantly up—it’s always three steps forward, two steps back. Now it’s more like three steps forward, one step back. But what I’ve had with VICE and xoJane are these support systems and these relationships, and a readership that’s made it so I can’t really slide back the way I used to. Which is why you will never hear me tearing down the internet. Having the support of an editorial home base—a job, I guess you could call it—is constantly inspiring me to be better and improve myself and get healthier. And it’s like, the relatively new success or whatever I have, isn’t enabling me. It’s challenging me to be the best person and writer I can be. And so I’m completely self-motivated and in-charge of getting it together. And I have my readers that I really want to thank for that. I’m so grateful to have an audience, God, it is such a gift… I am grateful every day and I am humbled by it every day. And I’m not going to let them down. I get like a billion tweets a day and I read every single thing. So many Facebook messages and emails. And I read all of them even if I don’t respond and they all say, “Keep writing.” And I’m going to. And it’s not a narcissistic thing, I really just want to put out the best work I can and I’m very hard on myself about that.
I’ll leave it there.